Sunday, September 29, 2019

The good points of Coils of Hate part 1: The hero

NOTE: I wrote this post a long time ago and I've only just released it. Since then, Mark Smith generously gave me his permission to release a fan version I made which reboots the original book and (I hope) addresses the problems it had. You can get it from Drive Thru RPG for free!!!!!

Coils of Hate is a gamebook in the Virtual Reality series written by Mark Smith. In the book, you are a member of the Judain community in the decadent city of Godorno. Your people are much hated upon and to make matters worse, about 5 sections into the book, the corrupt overlord of the city makes the hate official, banning Judain from the city unless they are slaves. You have to flee the city. When you return, things have really gone south. The overlord's men are hunting and killing Judain, there has been a plague and a giant purple creature is stalking the city, swallowing up people and undermining its foundations. For some reason, you are the only person who can stop all of this.

Now the book is maligned due to logic errors which cause a lot of frustration. Per Jorner has put in a lot of effort to catalogue them and Dave Morris has acknowledged that they need a lot of editing, but if you look past the logic errors, there is actually a lot of depth and great aspects to the book that surpass many other gamebooks.

The first aspect is the main character.

First of all, I would like to say that the character you play is an idiot. He (and, based on his relationship with Lucie, it is probably a he) does have some skills, but against the worst that Godorno has to offer, he is completely out of his depth. Want to fight Tyutchev? You'll probably die. What about go to some pub that thieves drink in? If you don't have streetwise, you'll get your throat cut. How about threatening or bribing a bunch of guards? You'll get peppered with crossbow bolts. Surely you can organise the resistance against the guards? No, they will also get peppered with crossbow bolts. How about tomb robbing? Can't harm the Jade guards. Killing the overlord? Failure is the only option. He doesn't even want a job, thinking that is beneath him.

Basically, it seems that the only thing you can succeed at is running away.

Now, I think the main character is an idiot, but I also think he is an extremely well fleshed out and written idiot with a depth that almost no other main character in a gamebook has.

He has a great can-do attitude: Despite only taking a few sections, your trip out of the city is vital at the beginning of the book - it gets you away from the city when things really go bad and crush the spirit of your people. You miss the plague and the initial attacks on the Judain. You also miss the first attacks by Hate. As a result of this, you are one of the few people in the city whose spirit hasn't been completely crushed, which means that you are ready to do whatever it takes to save your people. Due to the fact that everyone else is desperate, they actually listen to you.

He has friends and enemies: The character has people who know him and who he can drop in on. Now sometimes, these friends just pop out of nowhere, but they are introduced with familiarity. Tarkamandir, Caiaphas, Marmeluke and Lucie are exaples of the character's friends. The character knows Melmelo the thief and disapproves of him.

He has desires: He wants to make something of his life, which is what the introduction says, but not get a job. I'm putting this down to the arrogance of youth rather than the protagonist actually knowing that they will achieve something great. He must have a high opinion of himself when he is living in a broken down hovel yet somehow knows he is destined for greatness. He also desires Lucie. There are many points in the text where you can tell that the character is so besotted with Lucie that what is actually happening and what they are feeling are completely at odds.

He perceives things through an emotional lens: Most gamebooks simply describe the five senses to the reader, but this one demonstrates the characters thoughts and feelings. The book mixes the five senses and character perception well, so that you, as the reader can see that the character has a warped version of reality in places. This is most apparent when Lucie is involved. When she steals your amulet, your first thought is that she is being influenced by some supernatural creature, not the fact that she wants to sell it. There are also parts where there is a discrepancy between how skilled you think you are and how skilled you actually are. For example, in a section where you organise the resistance to take on the Overlord's men, you feel quite happy with your plan. And then the Overlord's men fire a bunch of crossbows at the resistance and completely curb stomp them. Oops.

So there we go. Here we have a main character who is really up against it. Their steps to being a hero is fraught with failure and sacrifice and yet, they are the only person who can do it as they haven't had their spirit completely crushed by oppression, plague of hate itself. They become a hero simply by just doing something.

I think this quote from Mark Twain sums up the hero perfectly:

"Only two things are required for success - confidence and ignorance."

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